Type VI secretion system killing by commensal Neisseria is influenced by expression of type four pili.
Custodio R., Ford RM., Ellison CJ., Liu G., Mickute G., Tang CM., Exley RM.
Type VI Secretion Systems (T6SSs) are widespread in bacteria and can dictate the development and organisation of polymicrobial ecosystems by mediating contact dependent killing. In Neisseria species, including Neisseria cinerea a commensal of the human respiratory tract, interbacterial contacts are mediated by Type four pili (Tfp) which promote formation of aggregates and govern the spatial dynamics of growing Neisseria microcolonies. Here, we show that N. cinerea expresses a plasmid-encoded T6SS that is active and can limit growth of related pathogens. We explored the impact of Tfp on N. cinerea T6SS-dependent killing within a colony and show that pilus expression by a prey strain enhances susceptibility to T6SS compared to a non-piliated prey, by preventing segregation from a T6SS-wielding attacker. Our findings have important implications for understanding how spatial constraints during contact-dependent antagonism can shape the evolution of microbial communities.